The Ringmaster and his Clowns

Posted on January 20, 2010 in Specials

Rudrani Das Gupta:

The world is surely a crazy place.

We started the year with a “yes we can”, and oodles of hope in Obama. The media made him out to be the New Age saviour who would herald change for the world. Everyone including a bulk of the Indian populace was rooting for the new Presidential candidate who made sure the whole world knew he was “black” . The saviour whom the people saw on TV came crashing down especially when the President started his attack on outsourcing jobs, singling out Bangalore. Forget us poor Indians, what happened to those much lauded health care plans and also the magnanimous decision to close down Guantanamo Bay? Who stands to answer for the disillusionment of expectations? The President himself, or the media who raised the bar to begin with? The man was being compared to Martin Luther King and even ended up winning the Nobel Prize!

Michael Jackson died and Pop was never the same again. The worldwide frenzy and despair almost made one forget the child molestation trials and the other scandals that the man had been through. There were only flowers and almost no brickbats for MJ. The poor man had barely lain in his grave when people all over the world started seeing the dead pop star in public places. It was Jim Morrison all over again, with hopefuls saying that MJ had faked his own death. With luck, the frenzy has abated for the next few years before he rises from the dead again.

The ringmaster is surely playing it well, and we the circus clowns are dancing to his tunes. Every time a news channel airs a sensational story, we go crazy. Just like they want us to. The face of the Godhra riots was a man begging for mercy with folded hands. Sympathy poured in like it never did. Why should our emotions be hung on strings and made to dance to the tunes of the newscaster or the war photographer? It is undoubtedly true that the function of the media is to mobilise public opinion and feeling, but there is a line between mobilisation and shameless manipulation. How many times have the faces of grieving parents been flashed across the front pages of the dailies accompanied with screaming headlines?

The recent death of Jyoti Basu, former leader of the world’s longest ruling democratically elected communist regime was followed by a wake of effusive praise. It is ironic how a death can arouse praise from the bitterest of enemies. Politicians who did not think twice before barking at each other, were now singing the sweetest of obituaries. Nothing like death to bring out the best in someone. People at the receiving end of news are like mad children. Their tendency to get carried away is well exploited.

The press is supposed to guide and create a public reaction, and not manufacture it, as they are often wont to do.

The writer is a correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz.